Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Free For All

Today the US Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Snyder v Phelps case. The defendants in the case are the infamous Phelps clan and their Westboro Baptist Church, the people who go to funerals and picket with hateful signs condemning homosexuals. It's what they do, apparently all they do. Mr. Snyder is the father of a man who was killed while serving in the military and who was no homosexual. At issue is the Phelps' right to engage in such a shameful practice as to intrude on people's rights to privacy during a time of deep grief.

As much as I hate everything the Phelps clan stands for, I believe they have the right under the First Amendment to engage in their shameful protests. Either we all have the right to free speech and the right to peaceably assemble, or none of us do. While both rights are not absolute, I believe we ought to vigorously fight against any governmental attempt to curtail those rights and the other rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

Tim Ruttin has examines another issue in the case, and what he has to say is, I believe, an important part of the whole dismal equation. He notes that a coalition of news media has weighed in on the issue, particularly the free speech aspect and quotes from their brief before weighing in what could be the solution to the raft of problems caused by the Phelps and their ungodly crusade.

As a consequence, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 21 news organizations — including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and this paper's parent corporation — have joined in a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Westboro.

"Most reasonable people would consider the funeral protests conducted by members of the Westboro Baptist Church to be inexplicable and hateful," the news organizations argue. "But to silence a fringe messenger because of the distastefulness of the message is antithetical to the 1st Amendment's most basic precepts.... This case tests the mettle of even the most ardent free speech advocates because the underlying speech is so repugnant. However, the particular facts of this case should not be used to fashion a 1st Amendment exemption for offensive speech. No less a principle is at stake than the central tenet of the 1st Amendment that the government must remain neutral in the marketplace of ideas."

It's the sound argument but a bloodless one — and to be morally and socially responsible, as well as constitutionally correct, it requires that those advancing it recognize that although government must be neutral, the news media must not be indifferent to the implications of the Snyder family's claims. Do we really want a society that makes no private place for grief? Albert Snyder and his wife are private people dragged into this for no reason other than that their son's sacrifice in the execution of a public duty made them the target of lunatics.

If we're going to argue that they must endure this for the common good, then the news media ought to do the decent and the rational thing and ignore Westboro's future protests. As the Anti-Defamation League pointed out in its analysis of this hate church, its tiny congregation seems to live for little but publicity.

If Albert Snyder and his family must forbear to protect the 1st Amendment, the American media owes it to them to restrain their vulgar impulse toward the bizarre and the sensational.

Now there's an idea whose time has come.

Well said, Mr. Rutten.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes & yes. very nice.


4:36 AM  
Blogger ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

If Albert Snyder and his family must forbear to protect the 1st Amendment, the American media owes it to them to restrain their vulgar impulse toward the bizarre and the sensational.

The Westboro Baptist Church and the corporate media worship the same god: $$$

That's the problem. Magic of the markets, indeed.

4:39 PM  

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